Melting Pot vs Zoo
Editor’s Note: Originally published November 2013 at The Roots of Liberty.
Somehow, somewhen, without consulting the rest of us (hat tip to George Carlin), the intelligentsia decided that the nation would no longer be a “melting pot,” where people who wanted to come here would be expected to embrace American culture while mixing theirs in. In its place, they want something akin to a zoo, where different cultures and ethnicities, foreign and home-grown, would be maintained in an original or distinct form, so that everyone else can observe and, I suppose, learn. The buzzwords of the day are “diversity” and “multiculturalism,” but have you ever noticed that those buzzwords are one-way streets? That it’s OK, even preferred, that the immigrants from “diverse” cultures don’t observe, learn from, and adapt to our baseline American culture?
This is in stark contrast with the entire history of the United States, the “melting pot” that people from all over the world came to in order to assimilate, to leave their previous cultures, to become Americans and in doing so influence and alter what it meant to be an American. Mulligan stew, the old hobo dish that consisted of a perpetually simmering pot that whatever anyone had would be added to, is an apt analogy. The modern analogy would be the recent culinary gimmick of “deconstructed” dishes, where the ingredients of a well-known or classic recipe are presented on their own on a plate. Interesting as a novelty, but to appreciate the dish properly one needs to know the classic version. And, even then, it’s an interesting aside, not the basis for the future of American cuisine.
It’s also at odds with why people come to this country. People come here to become Americans, to make for themselves a better life. If their cultures provided that, untouched and unaltered, they wouldn’t be emigrating. If things were just as they liked them back home, why would they leave? This has been the “land of opportunity” for two centuries, and seizing that opportunity is best served by merging with the society and citizenry. How does not assimilating actually serve these immigrants? How does continuing to practice old-country customs, using old-country language, sticking to old-country mores, lifestyle and such facilitate the betterment of their lives here?
There is also the message sent to the “diverse” who, if they hear the constant drum beat of multiculturalism and the encouragement to remain “different,” sometimes castigate their own for having the temerity to assimilate or blend in, rather than adhere to the oftentimes counterproductive elements of their own subculture. This phenomenon extends beyond immigrant groups to many “native” communities.
If we consider this phenomenon from the perspective of the liberal multiculturalist, what are we to conclude? The elitist may be very excited to interact with “diverse” people, he may consider it educational, he may feel it’s good for his children to bear witness to and even associate with “diverse” folks, but does it work both ways? Are all these “diverse” people better off for remaining conspicuously different and not “melting” into the society? Or is their social and economic mobility hindered? Do they lose opportunities? Do they alienate others who’d rather interact as equals than have to accommodate differences in a one-way fashion?
The adage about good intentions is apropos, yet somehow inadequate. We caution the person with good intentions, noting that his intentions can often lead him astray, but what of the recipient of those good intentions? What of the harm done to that recipient? The embrace of multiculturalism looks lovely on paper, yet as with so many social engineering theories, the hard reality often diverges widely from the theoretical result. Rather than creating a richer culture, the multiculturalism and diversity pushes by the intelligentsia serve to stratify our society, with the “diverse” held up as objects of interest and for study, the elite turning society into a theme park or safari, and the rest of us forced to accommodate both the elites’ indulgences and the diverse people’s lack of commonality. Such observations will be labeled by some as racist, but tell me, who’s the real racist, the person who wants everyone to blend together, or the person who wants to notice and observe differences?